Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Special Birthday Dinner

My best friend turned 29 today. In honor of her birthday, I cooked. I had an idea, couldn't find a recipe, so I decided to wing it. Here's what we got:

Fig and Brie Stuffed Chicken

4 Chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
4 ounces brie cheese, rind removed
8 small, dried figs
1/2 cup corn starch
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 250*

Place one ounce brie and two small figs, lightly smashed, in the center of each of chicken breast. Roll up each breast and pin with toothpicks.

Season corn starch with salt and pepper. Roll chicken in corn starch to coat. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add chicken, cooking on all sides, turning occasionally, until golden brown. Remove from skillet. Put in heat proof dish and place in a 250* oven.

*****

Sherry Reduction

10 oz sliced mushrooms
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup sweet sherry

In the same skillet, add the mushrooms and cook until lightly browned. Remove to a small plate.

Add garlic and onion, cooking until translucent.

Add stock and cook to reduce.

Add sherry and cook to reduce.

Return mushrooms to skillet, toss to coat.

Pour over stuffed chicken breasts and serve.

*****

This was excellent. We started with a cheese course. A bit of brie, a bit of bleu, a bit of cheddar. Paired with a Riesling.

We finished with apple crisp and coffee.

All in all, it was a wonderful meal.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On Trusting God for Pepper


I attended a wedding this weekend in Florida. It was phenomenal. The wedding was lovely, and the weather was perfect. There was a lot going on, and I was having a difficult time, what with travel troubles and sleep deprivation. More than once I prayed to God, and God responded, "Do you trust me?"

I, of course, gave the obvious answer, "Of course I trust you. You're God!"

What does trusting God look like when hope is deferred?

What does trusting God look like when the future seems bleak?

What does trusting God look like when our expectations cannot be met?

Two and a half years ago, I learned of a wonderful type of pepper: Aframomum Melegueta. Also known as Grains of Paradise. I've been aching to incorporate it into my recipes ever since.

Two and a half years ago, however, I was living in Iowa. I knew there was no chance of finding this delightful spice here, and when I looked online, every seller I found only sold in bulk. Even if I thought I could go through ten pounds in a year, I couldn't afford to shell out $200.00 for a bit of pepper. So, I waited.

I waited almost six months, until I had returned to New York City, where things like Grains of Paradise are more likely to be found, and available for purchase in a size more suited to my needs. As it happened, in late November of 2009, while shopping at WholeFoods, I happened down the spice aisle, and there it was, illuminated as if by God's hand itself, calling me forth, beckoning me to come, taste the deliciously floral spiciness of this small seed, begging me to take it home with me. Alas, I looked at the price and concluded at the time that I simply could not justify the cost in my current circumstances. So, I went away sad.

Three months later, when things were a bit easier, I returned to WholeFoods with the intention of taking home my first jar of Grains of Paradise. Though I returned once a week over the next four months, I never again found the Grains of Paradise; and between writing my thesis, attending a memorial service for my dog, planning for graduation, and packing to move after graduation, I never took the time to seek out those specialty spice shops in New York City that were sure to carry it.

So it was that I left New York for Iowa, once again resigned to the simple fact that my hopes of experiencing this amazing culinary item were, yet again, deferred. I determined to put it out of my mind.

That was until a couple of months ago. It just so happens that in the course of correspondence, I learned that a friend of mine had found Grains of Paradise in his local organic food mart. Oh, the envy that ensued. As I read his email, I leapt from my chair, and proceeded to dance around, while stamping my feet and shaking my fists; simultaneously rejoicing in his opportunity to play with this spice and pitching my own little temper tantrum. After all, while I firmly believe it would be well worth it to drive 800 miles, round trip, to pick up a single jar of this spice, I knew I'd never be able to convince the keeper of the keys of this fact.

This past weekend, I had just finished having my hair and make-up done. I had fifteen minutes to find something gluten free for lunch while the rest of the bridal party noshed on pizza. As I headed out of our hotel and up the street, I happened to see a small boutique called Savory. I peeked inside and discovered spices.

I was immediately distracted from my search for gluten free food. I headed inside and began to scour the store for Grains of Paradise. It wasn't with the other peppercorns. Suck.

It wasn't with the rest of the spices. Suck!

It wasn't tucked away with the herbs. Grrr!

"Exotic" the sign read, and I headed to the back of store. Aha! My heart began racing, and my palms sweating as a a grin broke across my face. There, sitting on a shelf amongst other jars I scarcely saw, Grains of Paradise. A glass container, half full, and metal scoop. I didn't even notice the price as I began searching for a baggie, a small jar, something, anything in which to store my purchase.

Nothing.

I looked around at the store personnel, all helping other customers.

My stomach rumbled.

I made a mental note to return in the morning, and once again began pursuing my original goal of a gluten free lunch.

Monday morning I awoke early. I made sure I had packed everything I'd taken to Florida with me. I watched a little TV. I checked in with some friends. I made arrangements with the shuttle service to pick me up at 10:00 in order to get to the airport for my 12:03 flight. When 8:00 rolled around, I headed to the tea shop next to the hotel for a bit of breakfast.

By the time I was finished eating my oatmeal, drinking my tea, and reading every Hollywood gossip magazine I could find, it was 9:00 and I was sure Savory would be open for business.

I left the tea shop, headed up the block and discovered that my surety was wrong. Savory opens at 10:00. At 10:00 I would be sitting in a cab, on my way to the airport, no Grains of Paradise in my carry-on. I wanted to cry.

Two and a half years, and was seconds away from my goal. If only I had another 10 minutes! But no. I had failed. Hope deferred. Again.

Standing on the sidewalk outside of Savory I again heard God ask, "Do you trust me?"

And again I answered, "Of course I trust you. You are God. You have never failed me. You have never left me. You have always cared and provided for me. You have proven yourself faithful in the past. So, I choose to trust you today, God. Even when it comes to pepper."

Eleven hours later, I climbed into my best friend's car at the airport, ready to head home. "I have a gift for you," she said to me. My best friend is the delivery service, however, not the originator of this gift. "He said you'd understand," she said, as she handed me a jar of Grains of Paradise; a gift from the aforementioned friend whose discovery lead to a dancing temper tantrum. Somehow, in that moment, it felt as though this was a gift from the very God who had been assuring me all weekend.

Ah, yes. God certainly can be trusted. Even for a jar a pepper.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Playing with Pollack

And that's the fish, not the artist.

I've been meaning to make fish chowder for some time now. I haven't gotten around to doing so. The reason is quite simple. The fish was in "the other" freezer. We've got two freezers. One that gets used regularly and one that does not. And the fish was in the freezer that does not.

So, despite the fact that I knew the fish was in there, because I saw it every time I opened the door to grab walnuts for my oatmeal, or herbs for my stews, or chocolate for baking, when it came time to make a meal for the family, I always opened the primary freezer. The one where we keep the big stuff. Chunks of dead cow, ground up turkeys, chicken breasts and thighs and drumsticks. Bags and bags and bags of tart pie cherries and rhubarb and homemade stock and the ice cubes. The vegetables. Basically, everything for meals as opposed to the frills for fun. Thus, pollack was never on my mind when it actually came time to cook.

Why the pollack was in "the other" freezer is a mystery that I am unlikely to unravel before my timely demise some sixty-one years hence. (No, I do not know when I will die. I'm just figuring 90 is a good age to go). However, that is where it was. Forgotten. Forsaken. Abandoned. Perhaps an eternal resting place next to the herbs.

So, I decided that I had to take drastic measures. And I did what I always do when drastic measures are necessary. I made a list. I clipped it to the refrigerator door. It's small. The writing so tiny no one but me is likely to pay attention and some are likely to be unable to decipher. And that's okay with me. It's the list I created for no one but myself.

And what might this list contain?

The meals I intend to make in the near future because a) I'm sick of seeing the ingredients on the pantry shelves, b) I'm sick of seeing the ingredients in "the other" freezer one or two mornings a week, c) someone else moved something from the primary freezer to the refrigerator and it needs to be cooked soon, let it go bad, and of the other three people living here, one is in too much pain to do much cooking and the other two never cook for more than themselves. Thus, it falls to me to make family meals. I don't mind. Really. I enjoy cooking.

Being faced with pollack on a regular basis, I wrote it on my list and determined to make it. Thus, when I placed in charge of feeding a hungry child after church yesterday, I surveyed the fellow diners on their preferences and fish chowder it was, narrowly beating out risotto, and far surpassing split pea and ham, because of the three options presented, split pea and ham was immediately forgotten.

Having never make fish chowder before, I delved into the depths of childhood memories and tried to replicate the flavors from a bowl of white liquid that my mother set in front of me in earlier years, and which proved to contain more white stuff (in the form of fish and potato chunks) and corn in its murky depths.

Here's what I came up with:

1/4 lb bacon
1 medium onion, diced
8 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
3 cups frozen corn
2 cubes chicken bouillon dissolved in 2 cups chicken broth
4 cups milk
1 lb pollack, cut into chunks

Place the milk in a large saucepan. Heat over medium and stir occasionally. Adjust heat as necessary to keep the milk from foaming. Continue heating the milk, stirring occasionally, until you are ready to add it to the rest of the ingredients. The idea is to reduce it to 3/4 or 1/2 the original volume.

Chop the bacon, (This is easy to do if it's frozen. If not, use kitchen shears to cut it up) and cook in a large stock pot over medium high heat until crisp. Scoop the bacon out of the pot and reserve, leaving the bacon fat in the bottom of the pan.

Lower the heat to medium. Add the onion to the bacon fat and cook until softened.

Add the chicken bouillon/stock mix, potatoes, and corn. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the fish and milk. I had 3 cups of milk left after all that heat and stirring. Next time, I'll start the milk earlier and see if I can reduce it down to 2 cups.

Simmer until the fish is cooked through and you are ready to serve. I think I turned the heat down to low and ignored it for 30 minutes. I had a hungry kid to entertain.

Salt and pepper to taste. (Normally, this is something I would do myself, but people around here are so picky--it's never salty enough for 2 of them and always too salty for 1, always too spicy for 2 of them and too mild for another, and I'd rather not hear the complaints).

Feed to small children and adults alike. It has a lot of potato and a lot of corn. But I like it that way.

I finished yesterday with homemade tapioca pudding. I told the hungry kid it was fish egg pudding. She just rolled her eyes and went back to reading. Sometimes it seems like they're growing up fast.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

On Art and Artists


One of my dearest and most beloved friends, Erica, is a studio artist. Her primary area is sculpture. I think her work is nifty. I also am not trained as an artist, so my opinion on her work is pretty worthless. But there you have it.

Erica and a colleague of hers, Ken, began a collaborative work some months ago and have been seeking exhibition opportunities to show their work. Ken is a painter. I would seriously consider selling a kidney, partial liver, or lung lobe on the black market in order to be able to afford two of the paintings he created for this show.

Erica, Ken and the director of the art gallery were installing the show this week. The opening reception will be on Friday, January 14th, 2011. I will be on a plane. I'm excited by this because 1) I will be headed to Florida which is significantly warmer than Iowa and 2) I will be attending a wedding (yay!). I am deeply distressed by this because I desperately want to be at the opening of this show.

I console, myself, however, with the fact that I was allowed to help install the show! Or, rather, I was permitted to help install Erica's portion of the show. This meant a bit of grunt work. I honestly did not mind a bit. It also meant I had the privilege of seeing some of the process that goes into deciding how to display works of art, and how the artists intend the space to be read.

Assisting in the installation also meant that I had the opportunity to ask Ken some questions about his work--both about some of the pieces specific to this show as well as about his experiences as a person of faith who works in a field that is generally quite hostile to faith. It was thrilling. Seriously.

The first of Ken's paintings for which I would consider selling a kidney is a re-imag(in)ing of Antonio Allegri da Correggio's Jupiter and Io. What first struck me about the piece was the interaction between the woman and the dark, formless, somehow ephemeral shapes on the lower right hand and upper left hand corners of the canvas, respectively. Having never seen Correggio's Jupiter and Io, I did not know Ken's painting was based on another work of art. However, it brought to mind two things:

1. The Little Mermaid, by Hans Christian Anderson. This might seem a bit ridiculous, but seriously, it's a naked woman who shines in full glory and who seems to be asserting her feminine (sexual) power against a darker entity. Can you really blame me for seeing Ariel and the sea witch Ursula?

2. The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Because despite the fact that in Ken's painting (being true to Correggio's original) is naked and St. Teresa in Bernini's sculpture is cloaked, Teresa is still, you know, chock-full of feminine power and sexuality.

The second painting of Ken's for which I would sell a portion of my liver and a lobe of one lung is this amazing piece about which I had no opportunity for questions or discussion. This painting left me feeling somewhat breathless and in tears. It was excruciatingly beautiful.

It shows the body of a woman, naked, seated, with her legs tucked to her side. Her shoulders, neck, and head are not visible. At least not directly. She takes up the majority of the left side of the canvas. There are some forms between the woman's knees and another figure, much smaller, fully clothed, and wearing a backpack (or parachute?) in the Child's Pose.

For several minutes I could not stop staring at this painting, thinking to myself, "This is the image of God." It was just that divinely beautiful, and evoked an interesting faith response in me. I wish I'd had the time today both to discuss this painting with Ken and to process my response with another person of faith.

All of Ken's paintings were gorgeous, but these two stopped me in my tracks.

Erica's work, which intersects, plays with, relates to Ken's paintings in the space are also quite exceptional. Erica has spent months crocheting painter's drop cloth. If I ever get married, I might be getting married in a crocheted wedding dress, made of drop cloth, courtesy of Erica. I've told her this. She still seems to think I'm joking. I'm not.

The sculptures, which are suspended from the ceiling are light, airy, frilly, and delightful. I think they are all wonderful, and if I had a large room with 20' ceilings, I'd do everything in my power to convince her to hang them permanently in my private space. I like her work. These large sculptures, however, are only part of her work for this show. And none of the above work is anything I got to touch today. I got to assist in her other pieces.

Erica's other pieces, also made of painter's drop cloth, are fascinating to me. They are large clear plastic bags which have been attached to fans running on timers. The timers allow the bags to deflate for a period of time before being re-inflated. Watching the bags deflate and inflate is a bit like watching lungs at work. It's so cool! (It reminded me of the scene in Jurassic Park where Dr. Alan Grant, played by Sam Neill, rests against a sick triceratops and allows his body to rise and fall with the animal's breathing).

The best part of these plastic lungs, however, and the part with which I got to assist, is their covering. They are draped with the painter's drop cloth which was removed from its box, unrolled but still folded, and cut down the middle, and separated in to several very long, thin strips. This was my job for the day--cutting yards and yards of plastic drop cloth, separating out the strips, and piling it on top of these lungs.

The plastic drop cloths themselves smell faintly of vanilla. They are almost weightless in the hand, as they pass through the fingers in the process of separation; like dry water, solid and yet somehow fluid but lacking viscosity.

And the sound it all makes as the lungs inflate and deflate is absolutely beautiful. It's like rain pattering on a window.

Because the motors for these lungs are all running on different timers, most of it is a steady tattoo. Every once in awhile, however, the times match up, and the sound swells in intensity; like when the wind blows during those rain storms, and for a moment the steady patter becomes a surge of power, and you know that a single sheet of glass separates you from the power of the elements.

I love the sound of rain. As a child the sound of the rain on my window was a protective cocoon from other sounds. Sounds of violence and strife. The gentle rapping of rain on a window is akin to whispers from God, assuring me that everything will be okay. To me, rain sounds...safe.

That is how I felt listening to three boxes worth of sliced up painter's drop cloth rustling against itself. I felt safe. Surrounded by beauty and an image of God, with the gentle rap of rain pattering the background, standing next to a very dear friend, I thought to myself, "Surely life does not get better than this."

I do not understand art. I find it intimidating. It is an area in which I have no training or formal knowledge. I have neither the technical language nor the cultural exposure to talk about art with any kind of authority. So, I tend to shy away from discussing it at all, lest I sound like an idiot.

Fortunately for me, Erica is gracious and understanding. Our friendship is not predicated upon my having a technical or theoretical understanding of art. She's always willing to answer my question, to share with me her process (both thought and production). She encourages me to engage art, and to start by describing what I see. In the case of her lungs, it is what I hear that is most powerful, so I started there.

Art may be something I always find somewhat intimidating. I may never understand it. I may never come to trust that what I experience in engaging a specific work of art is "right." But today, I had the opportunity to experience the divine through several works of art.

Today, I got to hear God's whispers of assurance to me and to see an image of the very God I love. And she is glorious.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Fickle Nature of Fudge

A couple of weeks before Christmas, I (finally) set out to make a batch of fudge. I had purchased the ingredients weeks, nay months, previous and had simply not had the time, desire, energy to be in a kitchen that I do not love. In fact, I regularly find myself in this kitchen for any number of reasons, and I somehow end up spending at least an hour, if not more, cleaning up after other people. Washing dishes, drying dishes, putting dishes away so that I can wash more dishes, taking orange and banana peels off the counter and throwing them in the compost bucket, taking butcher paper and plastic out of the sink and throwing it in the garbage, scouring the stove top of bacon grease, and soup spills, and sauce spills, wiping toast crumbs and coffee stains off the counter, sweeping the floor and if I'm really pissed off, scrubbing it by hand.

And why, pray tell, am I the one who ends up doing these things? Because I have significantly lower threshold for filth than anyone else in my family. Except the toast crumbs. That's entirely related to my autoimmune disorder.

I find that by the time I'm finished cleaning up after everyone else in the household, I have no energy to do anything in the kitchen that I enjoy doing for myself. I cook meals because I have to eat, and I no longer take any joy in any of it. The funny thing is, I wouldn't mind washing other people's dishes as much as I do if everyone bothered to eat at the time or, heavens forbid it, actually ate the meal I spent at least an hour preparing for them rather than turning their nose up at just to be contrary and making a mess of epic proportions in my sparkling clean kitchen after I've gone to bed for the night and am sleeping soundly, ensuring that I will wake up to that mess and feel as though I truly have accomplished nothing.

So it was with rather a significant deal of joy that I found myself some weeks ago with a freshly scrubbed kitchen and both the energy and the desire to whip out my pans and chocolate and make some fudge. Oh, giddy delight!

And I failed. I did everything right. The same way I always do. And somehow I ended up with a product I was unwilling to serve certain members of my family, never mind people I like and love. And so those to whom I had promised fudge months before were without.

I wracked my brains trying to figure out what exactly had gone wrong. I couldn't imagine it was the pan I had used. It was a great pan. Sure it was a different pan, but higher quality than my standard fudge pan, so that couldn't possibly be it. It might have been the fact that the chocolate had come from the freezer. Having purchased it months before when the weather was hot, I threw it in there for its own good. Perhaps I ought to have taken it out, brought it to room temperature before I began. Then again, maybe it was the chocolate itself. Not having access the brand I typically use, I had substituted. But then, I had used this same substitute in other application with no ill effects.

I was devastated by my fudge failure, and though there were several potential reasons it had come to be over crystallized and terrible, I did not know which factor or factors were the culprit(s).

Then, today, I found myself longing to prove to myself once again that I am an exceptional candy maker! I make candy and people rejoice! I make fudge and hearts melt. People I know and love are haunted by my fudge and cannot stop themselves from dreaming of its creamy texture and rich taste, longing even in sleep for a mouthful of this most delicious of confections. And so, I set out to make fudge once again.

As I reached into my cupboard, withdrawing my canister of sugar, my evaporated milk, my chocolate, and extracts, and such, I held my candy thermometer in my hand, and thought for a moment of the long journey it had made with me some months before. It is a harrowing tale that I cannot bring myself to share. Suffice it to say, I suspected that my candy thermometer might not have come through unscathed, whole though it appeared to be. And so I tested it, plunging its tip through the cloud of steam and into the roiling depths of a pan full of hot water.

What, per chance, did I discover? 200 degrees F.

200 degrees.

But, water boils at 212 degrees F, we all know this.

And so it was that I discovered that my candy thermometer, dear friend and companion, confectionery aid second to none, was off by 12 degrees. That explained everything.

So, I made the necessary adjustments to my recipe, and began again. Two pans of fudge are now cooling on the counter, and tomorrow will be packaged and whisked to areas of the world as exotic as Washington, DC, and New York City thereafter.

And thus ends the tale of The Fickle Nature of Fudge.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

More from the Land of Pork

Some weeks ago, my father came home with a pork loin. An entire pork loin. An 8 pound tube of muscle from the back of a hog that stretched some three feet in length with about a thirteen inch diameter. Dropping it on the stove top and leaving it there, I asked, "Hey, Dad, what do you want done with this pork loin?"

"Put it in the freezer."

"Whole?"

"Sure."

So, into the freezer the eight pound package of pork loin went.

Enter my mother some hours later. "No, we don't put meat bundles that large into the freezer whole. We cut them up into smaller pieces first, wrap them appropriately and then put them in the freezer."

"Too late?" I asked.

And, indeed, it was. So there it sat, the large loin of pork, in the freezer basket, stretching from one side of the freezer to the next, unassuming in its position. The lowly pork loin, waiting to dazzle, if only given a chance to shine.

So, here we are several weeks later, and I'm wracking my brains on a Thursday morning trying to decide what to make for dinner that night. Knowing I will be running errands all morning, and in a meeting all afternoon, and that Thursday are tricky because people have to eat and run in the evening, I think it must be something quick. Or something that prepared now so it will be finished when I get home.

And my eyes beheld the pork loin.

And I said unto myself, "Take that loin of the pork, that lowly loin from the bottom of thy freezer, and portion it appropriately. Take for thyself the portion that thy so desireth for the creation of thine fine meal this evening, and then wrap and return to the freezer the portions that thou hast decided to make into separate meals at a later date."

So out came the pork loin, to the back yard, and set upon saw horses, beneath which lay a clean drop cloth, and I pulled out the circular saw and in very short order, we had four appropriately sized roasts.

In reality, I thought, "Oh, hey, I want bar-b-que pulled pork for dinner and if I throw it in the crock pot now, it'll be done around 6:00." So, I pulled out the pork loin and a knife and set to work cutting it into four portion on the kitchen counter. But seriously, the circular saw is a funnier image. I set one portion into the crock pot with the appropriate seasonings, set it on low, and turned my attention to the remaining cuts of loin, which I wrapped twice in plastic cling wrap and then wrapped in a double layer of aluminum foil before replacing in the freezer, moved up to a shelf where they fit quite nicely.

Now, when I opened the freezer, this is what I saw:

Top shelf: Empty
2nd shelf: Ice cube trays, rhubarb and whey left over from my last yogurt excursion
3rd shelf: Empty
4th shelf: Tart pie cherries, picked by my father and I, and hand-pitted by my mother and I. (I make the best cherry pies).
5th shelf: Beef roasts, which began as a whole something or other of beef, purchased from the butcher, taken home, portioned, wrapped in plastic, wrapped in foil, and placed in the freezer by my mother, unlabeled. How do I know? I was with her when she did it.
Basket: Left over something from sometime in a nondescript plastic container left over from something else.

Knowing what everything is, I place the now-plastic-foil-wrapped-unlabeled pork roasts onto the third shelf, confident that since I know the beef roast is beef roast and the pork roast is pork roast, anyone else who decides to cook will know as well. Why? Because my mother is the only other person in the house who cooks for more than just herself, and since she put the beef roast in the freezer on the bottom shelf, she'll know that this is where the beef roast resides.

I awoke this morning to a smell that has since proved to me that my confidence was foolishness in the extreme.

My mother made pork roast thinking it was beef roast. And while the pork roast was in the oven, something niggled at the back of her mind. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but she knew something wasn't right. Did she suspect that she might have grabbed pork instead? Not even close.

Our conversation this morning went something like this:

"So, mama, I noticed that you took the roast out of the oven. Ummmm...did you unwrap the roast before you cooked it?"

"No. I put it in the oven wrapped in foil."

"Uh, yes, but...."

"It was still frozen when I stuck it in. I didn't even bother with a pan."

"So, um, you pulled the pork roast..."

"Pork roast? I thought I grabbed the beef roast."

"Well, I was looking at it, and I can tell by the way the foil was folded that it was the pork roast, and um... You didn't, by chance, unwrap the foil, and re-wrap using precisely the same technique before you put it in the oven did you?"

"No. I just stuck the whole thing in the oven straight from the freezer."

"Okay..."

"I'm guessing there's plastic under the foil."

"Yep."

And so it was that I learned a few fascinating things this morning. But I'll get to that in a moment.

It turns out that what was niggling at the back of my mother's mind was the thought, unformed and ethereal in nature, that she had also wrapped the beef roasts in plastic before wrapping them in foil. While she was certain that she had grabbed a roast wrapped in foil, and nothing else, she knew she was missing or forgetting something. It was the plastic cling wrap. I made certain of this when I pulled all the roasts out of the freezer and marked them in permanent marker this morning: "Beef + Plastic" and "Pork + Plastic" as was appropriate.

Perhaps most fascinating in this foray into odd cookery is the fact that plastic cling wrap + pork fat + a lot of heat applied via convection = an odd, white substance similar to rubber in texture, and plastic cling wrap + lean pork muscle + a lot of heat applied via convection = an intricate lace pattern of stiff plastic.

It's not at all surprising to me that the pork fat and plastic bonded into something new. That the end result was similar to rubber was cool and unexpected, but the bonding itself was no surprise. And why? Because the molecular structure of petroleum products (things made of oil) are very similar to the molecular structure of fats. They tend to create bonds that are difficult to break. This is why it's almost impossible to get grease out of plastic bowls and off of plastic utensils no matter how much soap you use. This is also why you cannot whip egg whites in a plastic bowl. Fat prevents the protein found in egg whites from foaming, and fat sticks to plastic, killing egg white foams. But that's tangential to this post.

So, all in all an interesting morning.

Lessons learned:

1. Being dangerously confident about others' knowledge can be entertaining
2. Plastic + Fat + Heat = Rubber-something
3. Always label anything that goes into the freezer, including not only what it is, but how it's wrapped.